In this very moment, God is ready to pour out upon you—from the lavish abundance and overflow of his reserves—blessings that will strengthen you in every aspect of your existence.
You might be thinking, Where did you get something like that, Stowell?James 5.
God is the God of "muchness."
I love the word "much." I like to go to restaurants and see over-heaped plates of food. I like to get in a car and hit the accelerator and feel the muchness of the horsepower. I love big crowds at baseball games. I love grand slam homeruns. I love last-second field goals in Super Bowl games. If we didn't have the word "much," how impoverished we would be!
This text indicates to me that God is the God of much—of lavish, abundant, overflowing reserves. He is a generous God. Do the Bible math with me. Wasn't it God who said in Psalm 84:11, "He withholdeth no good thing to him who walks uprightly," and, "My God shall supply all of your needs"? Don't ever forget your God is a God of muchness.
When Satan wanted to overthrow the created order and capture the hearts and souls of the governors of God's wonderful created garden, the very first thing he said to Eve was crafted to make Eve feel like God is stingy and out to oppress. He said to Eve, "Did God say that you could not eat of every tree in the garden?" Actually what God said to her was: You can eat of every tree in the garden … except for one. There's just one where you can prove your love to me by obeying and avoiding the danger of it. Don't ever let Satan whisper in your ear and persuade you that God is stingy God and wants to hold back, or that he has not given you everything you need.
We can access God's "muchness" through prayer.
James says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much." The word for prayer in James 5:16 means "to call out in the time of need." This is a specific prayer of a heart in great need. Think of the contrast. There is the God of muchness and here I am in my need and emptiness. This verse invites us to leave "Leansville" and come into the muchness world of God.
I like going to hardware stores; I love the smell of the lumber and the lure of the tools. The other day I stopped by the local hardware store for a light bulb. They didn't have the right wattage, so I turned around rather disappointed. As I was walking out, there at the end of the counter was one of the world's great symbols of muchness—the bubblegum machine. I was struck. I love those colored bubblegum balls. It symbolized muchness, and I was in need. I needed a quarter to get bubblegum, and I didn't have any change. I went to the clerk and said, "Excuse me. I'm not buying anything here tonight, but could you give me change for a dollar? Four quarters, please." She handed me four quarters, and I drained all four of them in that machine. I watched those little bubblegum balls go around and out the machine. How do you unlock muchness in the midst of your need? It took something to trigger that machine. I had to have a quarter.
That story trivializes the vast muchness of God and the reality of the painful aspects of leanness in our lives. It isn't adequate to plumb the depths of the fact that we are in need and something is required to access God's abundance. God's Word says the trigger is prayer.
The Heavenly Man is the autobiography of one of the leaders of the Chinese house-church movement. It's the story of his life from 1970 to the present. Some of you know the wonderful story of the miracle of Christianity in China. In the 1940s, when Communism swept in and either martyred or kicked out all the missionaries, there were about a million Christians in that vast land, with no missionaries and with no Bibles to speak of up until the 1980s. Today, conservatively speaking, there are at least 110 million Christians in China. While we sit here tonight there is a fresh wave of persecution sweeping through the Chinese church. They've been imprisoned and killed and fired from their jobs, marginalized in their communities, and kicked out of their families. No church has suffered on such a massive scale as the church in China. As I read through that book, I noticed one constant theme. The church in China is marked by prayer. They have tapped into the muchness of God.
I remember talking to a couple of our students from China's house-church movement. I'm sorry to admit that I said, "I guess when you go back to China the fact that you're graduates of Moody will give you a little stature and build a platform for you to be able to become leaders in that nation." They said, "Actually, when we go back, they will listen to us pray. That's what will qualify us to serve as leaders in the church in China."
I can hear some of you thinking, Well, of course. If I were a persecuted Christian, my need would drive me to trigger his muchness by prayer. But I'm an American Christian. I earn a good salary. I can pay all my bills. I have good health. I've got a good husband or wife. I'm enjoying singleness. I've got a job. I take vacations. I have nice clothes. I'm not in need.
Did you really believe that? The darkest moment in a Christian's life is when he looks in the face of God and says, "I have no needs." It is the worst self-deceit. In Revelation 3, Jesus says to the church at Laodicea: You make me sick because you say, "I am rich and have need of nothing."
They were guilty of the sin of self-sufficiency. Christ tells them that in reality they are wretched, naked, poor, and blind. The letter concludes with the graphic picture of Jesus standing outside the door of self-sufficient heart, knocking, wanting to come in. I am so needy, and only Jesus can meet the needs. The muchness of God is triggered by the prayers of people who know how much they really need him.
There are two important qualifications. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person triggers the muchness of God. "Fervent" means energy and passion directed at accomplishing something. This is not ritual. This is not, "Thank you, Lord, for the food. Amen." It's an energetic prayer—prayer of passion, boldness, and persistence from my heart.
Jesus described this sort of prayer with the story of a man with a guest who arrives at his house at midnight, and he has no bread. In the Palestinian context, you bake bread at the beginning of the day, and you only make enough for that day. You didn't have refrigerators. And even to this day in Palestinian culture, you offer a lavish spread for a guest. It is what hospitality is all about. So this guest arrives at midnight and the person realizes, Oh, I have no bread. So he goes running over to his friend's house. He knocks on the door and calls to his friend. "Hey, a guest has come. Do you have any bread?" The friend replies, "Get lost. The door's locked and our kids are sleeping." That's not how a Middle-Eastern person is supposed to respond. Jesus says: Because of the shameless and bold cry for help, your friend will get up and bring you bread, even if it's inconvenient for him.
Similarly, a widow visits a judge, and Jesus describes this judge as the worst—a total pagan. He has no fear of God. He couldn't care less about other people. He is a real loser. A widow, who's been ripped off and has no one to help her, comes to this judge. She persistently asks for help. Even a loser judge would finally say, "I've got to get this woman off my back and go and meet her need." Jesus makes the contrast, saying: If a loser judge would do something like that, how much more would your Father in heaven, the God who loves you, care for you? If you persist in prayer with passion and energy, how much more will your Father in heaven give to your need?
The other qualification in the text is the fervent prayer of a righteous person. Every sinner, like me, who comes before the throne of God to tap his muchness needs to come in repentance. Because you have the muchness of his abundant forgiveness, you can start your prayer with confession and become righteous at his throne.
God expresses his "muchness" in various ways.
You may be asking, But what's the muchness? What would it look like? This phrase "accomplishes much" or "is powerful for much" means the strengthening that the muchness of God gives on two levels.
The Greek word accomplishes or empowers means strengthening someone in terms of health and personal strength. But the word is also used in a second way—about power to get things accomplished. There are two sides to this. The muchness of God will be a strengthening influence in my life. He will fill me up and give me great health and great strength in my time of need. Not only that, he will empower me to accomplish great things. In fact, the context tells us he will empower us through prayer to do supernatural things.
First John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins he is faithful." Thank God he never reneges on this promise. Because of Christ's death on the cross, he can now in his justice forgive us for our sins. I've been very grateful that my God is so generous with his forgiveness. You can't put a price tag on being clean to the core, having your sins remembered no more.
James 1:5 says he'll give you the muchness of his wisdom: "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God." How many of you are parents of teenagers? They're always asking their friends for advice. They wouldn't even think to ask you for wisdom. In the same way, there are so many times when you need wisdom about a decision, a relationship, or a feeling. Will you please stop listening to talk show hosts and picking up books? How do you think God feels when you ask everybody else for answers? He said: I have the muchness; come to me and I will give you the wisdom you need and I won't make you ashamed.
In my pastoral ministry I was struggling with one of those deep challenges. I did not know what to do. I was making a hospital call about 45 minutes away from the town where we ministered. I got in the car, turned the radio off, and prayed, God, I need your help. I don't know what to do. You told me you'd give me wisdom. I need wisdom. I don't trust what my heart is telling me to do.
I pulled in the parking lot of the church, and I knew exactly what God wanted me to do. It was right, and we did it, and we weren't ashamed because his wisdom is always perfect and pure.
God will also give us the muchness of peace. "In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God that passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). The peace of God comes through persistent, passionate prayer. Stay at it until the peace of God floods your heart.
Satan is the destroyer. He loves anxiety. He loves confusion. He loves fear. He wants to fill your life with all of those kinds of things. He wants to make you so lean you're ready to starve to death. God says: I'll give you my peace. Just pray. Bring your supplications to me. Stay there until you have gotten such a dramatic picture of me, you know that I am control. I will work all things together for good. I am the God you can trust.
God also provides the strength to do great things for God. I believe in the sovereignty of God, I believe that God has a plan, and I believe Scripture is clear that my prayer won't wreck God's plan. But I also know the Scripture says that prayer gets a hold of the throne of God, and things change because of prayer. This verse teaches us that. "Elijah, a man with nature like ours, prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it did not rain on the Earth for three years and six months." It says: When you pray somebody might get healed.
This text teaches us that effectual fervent prayer gets things done. I don't know how. I don't know in what way. But prayer triggers God's gift to our physical needs. We have dozens of students here who would stand up and say, "I was in such need, and I took it to God, and I went to my post office box and there was a check from somebody I didn't know." Prayer does those kinds of things. You say, "Well, would the check have been there if I hadn't prayed?" Don't ask that question. Don't try to figure it out. It may have been, but maybe God wanted you to pray so he got the credit, so your heart was bonded to him and not bonded to the giver of the gift.
The most powerful product of prayer thing—far eclipsing even the healing of the sick—is the power to save a life from hell. This summer I had the privilege of speaking at the Keswick Conference in the United Kingdom. Every summer, 3,000 Christians come to this long-standing Bible conference, doubling the population of this little town. On the Sunday before the conference started, they put each of the speakers in churches throughout this beautiful town of Keswick. I was to preach in an evangelical Anglican church. After they sang some great songs, the rector introduced a woman who would say the church prayers and then share a little bit about her life. After she prayed, she told us:
I worked in a little gift/sandwich shop in town. Years ago, during the Keswick Week, a lady named Winnie came in every day. We struck up a conversation, and I could just tell there was something really different about her. I watched her. I listened to her. I felt her love. I was drawn to her. The week was done, and Winnie left, and every year I looked for her to come back again into the shop, and she never did. I never saw her.
Several years later I felt an almost physical, irresistible drawing of my heart to Jesus Christ. I tried to shake it. I tried to dismiss it, but it was so irresistible. One day I was walking by this church, and I came in, and the pastor was there. I shared this, and he opened the Bible, and he led me to Christ.
A couple of years later somebody came into the sandwich shop and said, "Do you remember Winnie?" I said, "Oh yeah, every year I look for Winnie. I wish I could see Winnie. I'd like to tell her that I've accepted Christ as my Savior." This person said, "You're kidding? I'm a friend of Winnie's. She asked me to say hello to you. Do you know what? Every single day since she left this conference, Winnie has prayed that you would come to know Christ."
Then the woman finished her story by saying, "Winnie's here this morning. I'd like to have you meet her." I was looking at the righteous person whose effectual fervent prayer brought the muchness of God's salvation to this woman.
After the service, I noticed Winnie and this lady were walking down the lane in front of me. I caught up with them and said, "Winnie, I am so glad to meet you. My heart has been convicted and encouraged about the power of prayer. Winnie, thank you for being such a godly prayer warrior." And in a very humble way she dismissed it and gave God the glory. Then I turned to the other lady and said, "Wow, you must really have been under the grip of the adversary." She replied, "I cannot begin to tell you about the grip Satan had on my life." Finally, after years of fervent prayer by a righteous woman, Satan said: Uncle. I'm done. I tried. That's it. You can have her.
Prayer unleashes the muchness of God for the strengthening of your life in a time of need and empowering you to do great things for him and for his glory.
Joseph Stowell is president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of numerous books, including Jesus Nation (Tyndale).